WCU splits two Southern Conference home games

The Western Carolina men’s basketball team stayed at home between December 18 and 21 and came away with a win and a close loss to an upper-echelon conference opponent. With Christmas Break going on, the basketball team had little to no students left to cheer them on but they performed solidly even without the support. The first game came on the 18th against The Citadel. Western made quick work of the Bulldogs and won 82-63. After scoring the first four points, the Cats let up and allowed the Bulldogs to go on a 13-3 run. The Cats struck back later in the first half as they hit four straight 3-pointers to take back the lead on a 14-3 run. Negus McKenna keyed the run with two of the four 3’s, and the Cats never looked back from that point on. The Cats received a great performance from returning leading scorer, Antonio Russell. Russell, a 6’0″ junior scoring guard, put up 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting. Russell shot 3 of 4 from long range and also dished out 7 assists. Freshman big man, Nick Aldridge, stepped up as well as he had 19 points and 7 rebounds. Aldridge shot 7 of 8 from the floor. Other solid performers for the Cats were junior Negus McKenna and JC-transfer Arnold Gore. McKenna had 14 points and knocked down four 3-pointers, while Gore finished with 13 points. The Citadel had two double digit performers in guards Kevin Hammack and Donnie McLendon. Hammack finished with 19 points as he hit four 3-pointers, while McLendon finished with 15 points as he hit five 3-pointers. Overall, the Cats shot almost 59.6% from the field and 57.1% from long-distance on their way to dropping the Bulldogs to 2-9 overall and 0-2 in the SoCon. Maybe the Cats should have saved some of the baskets for their game later in the week with the College of Charleston. The College of Charleston was one of the leading picks to win the SoCon in the preseason. And with Dontaye Draper returning and the addition of coaching legend Bobby Cremins it’s easy to see why. Western gave the Cougars a tough fight at home on the 21st, but in the end the Cougars were just too good. The Cougars grabbed control of the game in the first half. In what proved to be a back and forth battle in the first half (six lead changes) the Cougars snatched momentum going into the half with a 47-38 lead. The Cougars quickly stretched the lead to 11 early in the second half, but the Cats did not quit. The Cats cut the lead to five points with a 3-pointer by Russell and a lay-up by Gore. The Cougars stretched the lead back out to 10 points with 7:46 remaining as Marcus Hammond hit two free throws and Josh Jackson scored in the paint. The Cats made one final push, though, in front of the tiny Christmas break crowd. After a missed jumper by Gore, freshman Jake Robinson grabbed the offensive rebound and put it back in to cut the lead to eight points. Robinson came right back down on the next possession and hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to five points at 60-65. Another Robinson 3-pointer a minute later would cut the lead to two points. The Cougars struck back this time though, as big Josh Jackson scored an old fashioned three-point play to put Charleston back up by five points. Russell knocked down a jumper on the next possession to cut it back to three points, but once again Jackson scored to push it back to five. With 3:57 left, Gore hit a lay-up, and about 30 seconds later McKenna nailed a 3-pointer and tied the game at 70. This is where the Cougars lived up to the hype as they calmly regrouped and closed out the Cats. The College of Charleston used a 12-5 run from that point to win the game as David Lawrence and Dontaye Draper took control. Lawrence scored 7 of the points as he hit two 3-pointers and a free throw. While Draper scored four of the last five points knocking down free throws in the last minute of the game. The Cougars received big performances from numerous players. Jackson finished with 13 points on 6 of 8 shooting, while Lawrence finished with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and four 3-point baskets. Draper finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists, and Jermaine Johnson finished with 17 points inside on 8 of 13 shooting. The win pushed the Cougars up to .500 on the year at 6-6 and pushed them to 2-1 in conference play.The Catamounts received their best performances from Russell, McKenna, Gore, and Robinson. Robinson’s clutch shooting put them back into the game late and he finished with 13 points in 12 minutes on 3 of 5 shooting from long range. Russell was once again the leading scorer as he finished with 19 points and pulled down 5 rebounds. Gore finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while McKenna came off the bench to score 11 points and pull down 6 rebounds. The loss dropped Western back to .500 at 5-5 and left them at 2-1 in conference play.